Lawmakers’ voting participation remains high in shorter session
Records from the past three legislative sessions point to a simple truism of the citizen-legislature model: The shorter the session, the better the attendance.
By keeping a 100-day session — the length prescribed by legislative rules — 27 of the Legislature’s 90 members voted on every bill that was brought to the floor, and only one lawmaker missed more than 20 percent of floor votes.
The figures show a slight improvement from 2010, when four lawmakers missed more than 20 percent of their chamber’s floor votes and only 25 members voted on every bill. That session went 109 days.
But in the 2009 session, which ran 170 days and ended on July 1, there were 21 lawmakers who missed more than 20 percent of their chamber’s floor votes and none voted on every bill.
In addition to the length of the session, House Republicans chose to scrap a rule requiring at least 24 hours’ notice to schedule a conference committee in 2009, in an attempt to allow more nimble latesession negotiations.
Those who supported deleting the rule later admitted the decision exacerbated the members’ already poor voting records, which to some degree resulted from the length of the session.
Following the poor level of participation in 2009 — and the negative media attention that followed — leadership in both parties stressed to lawmakers the importance of being there for floor votes.
As the 2011 session began, leaders in both chambers said they didn’t feel compelled to browbeat their members about how lackluster vote participation reflects on the state’s legislators.